Though Koen Holtkamp and Brandon Anderegg began Mountains combining extended drone textures with lone-porch guitar picking, the duo have spent the last several years slowly evolving into more fluid, long-form kosmische ventures. By the time they'd fled their own label, Apestaartje, for Chicago's off-the-beaten stalwart Thrill Jockey in 2009, Mountains was far more indebted to the space-synth ends of '70s German experimental music than the ambient zone-outs with which they'd begun their career. Over the last couple of years, their approach has dovetailed, though in slightly grainier fashion, with territory mapped by increasingly popular acts like Emeralds, Dylan Ettinger and Rene Hell.
For their second record for Thrill Jockey, Air Museum, the two set out with a new set of parameters in mind. For the first time, they ditched the computer, instead processing their instruments—from acoustic and electric guitar to accordion, piano, bass, etc.—through pedals, modular synths and other analogue gear. Where the band has always emphasized live improvisation, Air Museum was recorded almost exclusively in studios in Brooklyn and Philadelphia over last year and early 2011 (barring "Live at the Triple Door," culled from a Decibel Performance in 2009). Gone, for the most part, are the pastoral guitar touches of their early work; in their stead are graceful Schulzian moonwalks.
The result is perhaps the duo's simplest and most sonically spiritual album to date. There's a harmony between the two after six years of recording and lengthy touring together, often heard in long burbling sections where Holtkamp and Anderegg seem content to entwine their soft rippling melodies around each other and just sort of hover for instants that dissolve in a peaceful fade. Their tendency is to ripple rather than to swirl, to allow sounds to fold in and over the rest of the composition rather than to rotate around the same central motifs. Opener "January 17," for example, bubbles along on dual synth peals that almost sound like inert blasts of trumpet until accordion begins to garble this clarity from the edges, while "Newsprint" has a dim static wash that slowly ascends into the kind of fuzzy choral symphony they created on Mountains or Sewn.
Elsewhere, "Thousand Square" and "Sequel" are more Carpenterian, with space cowboy arpeggiations that only slowly begin to reveal the slightest hints of light and playfulness. Again offering faint oceanic samples to start, "Live at the Triple Door" eventually churns into a pixilated blizzard, a virtual aural whiteout of static and distant murky melodies heard only as the wind dies down. It's both an ode to the surface beauty of their earliest material, and in its noisier tones a pointed statement of how much more extensive their sonic palette has become. Most importantly, though, it's a damn beautiful closer for another excellent offering from the two.
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Tracklist: Mountains - Air Museum 01. January 17
02. Thousand Square
05. Blue Lanterns on East Oxford
06. Backwards Crossover
07. Live at the Triple Door
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